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Tag Archives running

Speed isn’t everything (a Little Mermaid story)

Running with the Little Mermaid

Illustration by the Little Mermaid.

Normally, when I go out for a run, I get a few looks of encouragement and support. Today, although it was my normal route, I suffered looks of pity instead.

It wasn’t that I had injured myself, or that I was running badly. The heavy breathing and pink cheeks are typical for me after running up the hill. If anything, I was moving faster than normal.

And it wasn’t like yesterday, where a class of French school children all wanted to pass along the narrow path and through the little gate into the church cemetery at the same moment as me. Their French accents as they apologised and got out of the way were all very sweet, but not at all pitying.

No, the pitying came because of the comparison

Today wasn’t a case of running along by myself looking brave against the backdrop of the Bronte’s moors. No, a light-footed young lady had darted past, most elegantly, moments before. Dressed in sleek black lycra – rather than an old second-hand hoodie – and running up the steep cobbles like they were a flat, freshly lain road, she was impressive.

The girl in question is my Little Mermaid

My cousin is half my age and it appears, twice as fast. She’s not yet as tall as me, but we share a shoe size and some genetic wonders that mean we both run with our feet pointing inward. She’s got better shoes and more experience racing than I have.

From her, I learn stretches that are particularly suited to my body and our shared inheritance. The Short Aunty joins in, proving that her legs bend in strange ways too.

However, the Little Mermaid is still categorised as a child

Even if she’s considerably taller than her mother, Short Aunty. For her age category, cross country racing is limited to 3 km. Although she also does 5km park runs – and her times are a good few minutes quicker than my own. Even so, her park run is somewhat flatter than my great hills and so she lacks practice on longer 5.7km runs with a 167m elevation gain.

Whereas I specialise in slowly running uphill

It started when I lived in a mountain village in northern Spain. Whilst my friends there would complain about how far away the beach was and how much effort it would take to go down the hill and run along the beautiful flat stretch beside the beach, I ran up.

And once I was back in Yorkshire, living in the bottom of a valley where the only way to go was up, I found myself running up more.

I’ve got experience of up.

And yet, without a doubt, the Little Mermaid beat me up the hill

She was impressively quick. She jogged on the spot as she waited for me to catch up. I gulped down air and shouted left and up, or right and up, as the next direction. We passed through the gate where the French school children had caused the delay the day before, and she darted ahead.

She skittered around a group of tourists going out for a walk on the moors, maps and rucksacks to hand. They apologised for getting in the way.

“No, it’s good, you hold her up,” I said laboriously.

“You should have shouted earlier!”

“Couldn’t.”

The Little Mermaid paused at the top of that bit of hill. I pointed to the highest point on the moor, and she set off again. The rough terrain had no effect.

Little Mermaid 1 : Aged Cousin 0

We carried on running. I pointed out the route and she sprinted off. I didn’t bother trying to keep up. Undoubtedly, I was running quick. When you’ve got someone to compared yourself to, and they’re making you look slow and out of shape, it’s an incentive to move your arse.

But then something funny happened

We reached the 3km mark. At this point in a run, I’ve warmed up. We’re on the moor which is gorgeous, the big open landscape is my landscape. This is home and it feels good. The Little Mermaid’s quick pace means I’m flying along, and since we’ve passed the top, we’re now running a gradual down. I know these paths, they’re all familiar to me. I feel surprisingly fresh.

We pass the same group of walkers, who in a jolly show of friendliness leap out at the Little Mermaid who’s still far ahead of me, pretending to slow her down. I tell them that they failed.

“It’ll do you good” one of the chaps calls as I run past.

He’s right of course. It is doing me good.

The Little Mermaid however has passed the point where she’d normally stop

She’s thinking about a glass of water, a sit down, a quiet stretch, a shower and something nice to eat as a reward for her hard work. However, she’s still got 2.7km to run.

She slows, and we run side by side for a while, then she’s running behind me.

“Can we pause at the next bench?”

I agree. My sister, the Midget, is always too proud to ask for a pause – she just internally bad mouths me when we run instead. Speaking out when you’re reaching your limits is a sign of strength.

I take off my hoodie and re-do my pony tail. My hair bobble snaps.

Which is annoying

But what’s also annoying is that I’m suddenly in the rhythm of things and we’re now heading downwards very slowly. We almost amble through the village. At the top of our road, the Little Mermaid decides that I should go on ahead. We can meet at the bottom.

Little Mermaid 1 : Aged Cousin 1

The tortoise wins.

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Where I gloat about how wonderful it feels to be able to run.

Running on the moors

…and, blessed as if a soul escaped from purgatory, I bounded, leaped, and flew down the steep road; then, quitting its windings, shot direct across the moor, rolling over banks, and wading through marshes…

-Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

I leapt across an icy puddle up on my moor this afternoon. The ground was frosty and hard, except in spots where dark mud oozed through and my trainers sank and the cold reached my feet and I thought ‘eww’. And I laughed.

Another such habit that I am reliant on is going outside. Not just walking between the house and the car, or hurrying along the street to get from the car park to the hairdressers, but being and enjoying being outside.

“I’m never doing this again,” I swore after the father dragged me up Snowdon as a rather unfit teenager. And yet, now I’ve taken responsibility for my body and I’m not so squidgy, walking is something I really enjoy doing. It’s bliss whether it’s giggles and chatter with a companion, the slow unravelling of life’s problems, or a quiet occasional exchange of peaceful thoughts. When I’m on my lonesome, where fellow walkers glance around expecting any moment to see a dog leaping through the heather there’s an undistracted, invaluable calm.

If I could go back and convince my younger self of anything, it would be that I need to use my hands, and I need to feel the sun on my face, or if not the sun, the bitter coldness of a fresh winter breeze, or the murky drizzle. My body doesn’t feel alive seated in front of a computer. It doesn’t matter how ergonomic the chair is, I’m still missing the joys of movement.

Swooping down the hills on my bike is the closest I know to being an eagle. It’s not so easy as walking. Initially, my body resists giving up its comfort. It’s understandable. We’ve got hills here. There’s also a haunting fear associated with being reliant on a piece of machinery which I don’t entirely understand. When I swoop down those hills I’m depending on the breaks to work. As the wheels spin faster, and gravity pulls me down, I’m praying that I’m not about to end up in a hedge. It’s a risk. Adrenaline. Fun.

And then there’s running. For me, cycling is the better sport, but it’s also the one I fear more. If I fall over running, I’ll have a grazed knee. I know I can manage a little disaster. I’ve run back to an apartment in a foreign town, 3km, with blood pouring out both my knees and been fine. However, if I come off my bike, the damage is likely to be more than just a grazed knee. If I get stuck on a run, I’m going to be a couple of miles from home at the most. On a bike ride, I’m hopefully going further. The risk is higher. I’ve still never managed to mend a puncture on the side of a road, or replace an inner-tube. And yet, to soar…

But running has its own delights. When you go running for the first time in a long while, or after a cold, or when you’re forcing yourself to go rather than wanting to go, it can be miserable. It can be more than miserable. It can be horrendous. You feel like you’re dying. However, for those days where you’re running and your breath isn’t wheezing or drowning out the rattle of your house keys, you feel powerful. That satisfaction of all the cogs in this great machine working together. I look alive.

Exercise makes me feel better – stronger – and it makes me feel more confident about my body. As sad as it may be, the truth is that for most of us, image and self-worth are intricately connected. It’s all too easy to develop a negative relationship with your body image. Which is another reason I like running and cycling. It’s hard not to like yourself when you can climb a steep hill on your bike, or when you glide past a couple walking their dog and they smile at you with respect for the efforts you’re extolling.

Even if I can’t see it in the mirror, I can feel how amazing my body is. With exercise, my confidence exists independent of the mirror’s reflection. This isn’t to say I’m not insecure about how I look, or at other times vain, or that I don’t love make-up, high heels and pretty clothes. I do. Applying make-up is painting on the most interesting canvas I own. But make-up can’t give me the belief in myself that pushing my heart can.

I know which one I value more.

For me, respect for my body isn’t simply theoretical, it’s a physical sensation that’s earnt through hard work. The more I see and feel what I can do, the more I realise that my ideal body isn’t an idea sold to me through a magazine or an advertising billboard. It’s a body that knows how to ache joyously.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami What I talk about when I talk about running

Running is hard work. It’s often lonely, it’s cursed by twisted ankles, strained muscles and in weather like today, soggy feet. And yet, when your body becomes bewitched in that elusive rhythm, it feels worth it.

Haruki Murakami, Japanese author and obsessive runner, believes his writing is dependent on his running, and explains the relationship in this wonderful little book. I read it whilst banned from running due to a concussion, which made it a frustrating read – I wanted to put on my trainers by the end of the first chapter.

He talks about how writers don’t need to live Hemingway-style tragic lives to write, and how training for a marathon builds the necessary stamina for writing a long work of fiction.

It’s the fourth book I’ve read by Murakami. His books always leave me with the haunting feeling that I need to reread them, and then probably reread them again after that. This book, being straight non-fiction with a title that clearly mentioned running, was easier going than the others. There was no odd magic (Kafka on the Shore), I wasn’t completely depressed by it (Norwegian Wood) and I haven’t spent the hours since reading it in a maddened frustration, wondering if the ending was happy or sad (South of the Border, West of the Sun).

It’s clearly a memoir about running. Except I’m not actually sure it’s about running at all.

Running it seems, is rarely about running. It’s sometimes a test of strength and determination, it’s sometimes a vain attempt to lose weight or belong, and other times it’s done because of the fear of what will result without exercise. It’s a lonely, selfish sport.

What I took from Murakami’s book though, wasn’t at all about running. Running, according to Murakami, is about knowing the person that you are.

This quote was chosen with the Father in mind:

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any lengths to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest, within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life–and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.”

And I felt it like a wink. Permission that sometimes it’s ok to be a bit anti-social, sometimes it’s alright to take a bit of time and be a bit selfish.

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